‘Hurricane Hunters’ stop in Texas as storm season nears

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (KXAN) — The Atlantic hurricane season is just more than a week away, and the National Hurricane Center is making some changes this season designed to keep you safe.

Members of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hurricane Hunter crew, along with a handful of hurricane experts, made a stop in Corpus Christi earlier this week to talk about the changes and show us the plane that weathers these storms.

Chutes that the dropsondes fall out of  from the plane to the ocean surface. Dropsondes send valuable info on atmospheric variables to meteorologists at the national hurricane center to help better-predict the storms. (David Yeomans/KXAN)
Dropsondes fall from chutes on the plane to the ocean surface. Dropsondes send valuable info on atmospheric variables to meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center to help better-predict the storms. (David Yeomans/KXAN)

Lt. Cmdr. Justin Kibbey says piloting the hurricane hunter aircraft is no easy task.

“Trying to keep the plane safe, trying to keep the wings level,” Kibbey said, “part of me is always a little bit scared. But it keeps a heightened sense of awareness.”

The plane he is in charge of is a modified P-3, sporting three different weather radars or its tail, belly, and nose. Inside, creature comforts are replaced by a myriad of wires and instruments.

“It can be a challenging environment to fly in,” Kibbey said.

Punching through powerful hurricanes at low altitudes, meteorologists onboard drop special instruments called dropsondes out of a chute in the floor. As the dropsonde falls to the ocean it  transmits valuable data on wind speed, humidity, and other variables that aid in forecasting the storms.

There is no question these planes are equipped with very impressive technology, but all of this equipment was on the planes last year. What is new this hurricane season are the forecasts the National Hurricane Center is issuing.

“We invested in a part that few people understand, which is social science,” said Jamie Rhome, who analyzes storm surge, or flooding from the ocean that often causes the most damage out of all the storm’s hazards. “It represents about six years of investment, so we’re really excited about it. This new graphic is meant to communicate two things which we’ve really struggled to do in the past: how deep is the water going to be over land, and how far inland the water could go.”

“It just takes one storm or hurricane to make it a really bad year for you. That’s why you prepare the same way every hurricane season.”— DR. RICK KNABB

A hypothetical example of the new flood forecast shows how deep the water might be over the Houston Metro with an approaching storm.

“If a big hurricane comes ashore on the Texas coast, it’s not going to just disappear,” said Dr. Rick Knabb is the Director of the National Hurricane Center. He warns that strong hurricanes can also pose problems right here in Austin. “One of the most frequent impacts of tropical systems inland is heavy rainfall that can lead to flash flooding and river flooding.”

Knabb recommends taking steps now to prepare for what tomorrow might bring. These steps include evaluating your home’s flood and wind damage risk and making sure you have adequate insurance to cover a major storm. He also says it is helpful to provide your Central Texas home as a potential evacuation destination for friends or family who live on the Texas coast.

Although several outlets have already issued hurricane forecasts for the upcoming season, NOAA will release their official forecast Thursday at 10 a.m. The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1.

Knabb warns not to let your guard down just because forecasts from other outlets are calling for a relatively quiet hurricane season.

“There’s a big difference between how busy the season might or might not be, and how bad it might be for you,” Knabb said. “It just takes one storm or hurricane to make it a really bad year for you. That’s why you prepare the same way every hurricane season.”

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